When designer Colman Riddell and her family moved into a converted 19th-century stable in Georgetown, she inherited a colossal, ornate mirror from the previous owners that stretched more than eight feet tall. It was, by all accounts, a statement piece.
“It’s impossible to ignore,” she said. “It dictated just about all of the decor.”
With 23-foot ceilings, Riddell wasn’t concerned about making the space appear taller, but she did want the small living room to feel more airy. The mirror became her handiest tool. She placed it above her fireplace between two sets of stained-glass windows and, at first glance, it almost looks like a window itself.
“Decorating small spaces is 75 percent visual manipulation,” she said, “and mirrors are hands-down the best way to trick the eye. They can make it seem like you’ve got way more square feet, height and light than you paid for.”
It’s no secret that mirrors can help a small space breathe. Often used in restaurants and hotels, they create the illusion that an area is larger and better lighted. And because they take up very little room, those in cramped quarters can and should go nuts: Cluster them on the wall instead of art, flank the guest bed with a pair of mirrored nightstands, place a large floor mirror in the foyer. There are few rules when it comes to mirrors in small spaces, but there are ways to get the most out of them. Here are four.
1. Go big: “The smaller the space, the bigger the mirror,” said Rockville designer Kristin Peake. “It’s one of those things that you try once and never go back. With mirrors, you can never, ever, go too big.”
The advice might sound counterintuitive, but choosing a mirror that’s too small can actually make a room appear cavelike and cluttered. Large mirrors are particularly effective in tight areas such as hallways or office nooks, whereas small mirrors only emphasize the lack of space. The one exception to the bigger-is-better rule: mirrors that are dominated by a bulky frame. If space is tight, don’t waste it with an elaborate frame. West Elm’s 2.5-by-6-foot Floating Wood Floor Mirror ($399, www.westelm.com) and Pottery Barn’s 3-by-6.5-foot Oversized Leaning Floor Mirror ($799, www.potterybarn.com) both emphasize the reflective surface and would be an elegant addition to any room.
2. Get creative with placement: Floor mirrors shouldn’t be relegated to the bedroom or closet. Place one in the living room behind an accent chair to open up the space, or by the front door to make a powerful first impression. Riddell says the most successful entryway she’s ever seen was a 4-by-4-foot space in which the door opened to a gigantic leaning floor mirror. “It was the most glamorous surprise,” she said.
Peake likes to place statement mirrors in unexpected places, such as her office conference room. “They’re visual architectural details that act like paintings but are cheaper and more strategic because they open the space up,” she said. “You get a lot of bang for your buck.”
But for some, mirrors suggest narcissism, so be deliberate. Avoid the dining room, where they could distract from conversation, or at least put them at eye level so they won’t be in the way when guests are seated. And if you want a mirrored ceiling, the detail is best limited to a hallway, Peake says, and only with a professional glassworker doing the installation. Warning: It will be pricey.
3. Reflect and amplify light: If you’re looking to add light to a stuffy space and window or skylight construction isn’t an option, a mirror can do the trick. Hang it directly across from a window to bounce light off the mirror’s reflective surface and seemingly double the amount of light. The Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles famously uses 357 mirrors that amplify light from 43 hanging chandeliers and reflect the windows to the gardens outside. Without the mirrors, one could say the hall would be half as arresting.
4. Consider mirrored furniture, within reason: When it comes to mirrored furniture, less is more, lest the room end up looking chintzy and garish. Mirrored glass is a statement material, much like clear glass and crystal, and is most glamorous when used in small doses, like a mirrored jewelry case or knobs on a white chest of drawers. Anthropologie sells Silvered Mirrored Knobs in seven styles ($8-$10 each, www.anthropologie.com) that make a perfectly subtle style statement.
“As they say, Liberaci-too-much-y,” Peake said. “Don’t overdo it.”
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Buerger is a freelance writer.